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In past articles in this series, we’ve talked about the emerging meme of phone-car convergence. It is difficult to predict what sorts of automobiles will emerge, or how innovative automobile companies are willing to be in this volatile economic climate, but as we study trends in the two seemingly distinct technology areas of automobiles and cellphones, it is becoming clear that cars are well on their way to becoming highly sophisticated network computers. In this article we look at Android, and why it could be significant to the automobile industry.
A Google car?
Google, at first glance, is an unlikely player in the automotive landscape beyond providing mapping services to existing car computer systems such as BMW Assist. Consider, however, the release of Google’s mobile operating system Android, and how it is being used by third-party developers to create some very innovative applications for cars.
The first phone to run Android — the G1 from T-mobile — was released a few months ago and is considered to be a potential contender for the iPhone. Like the iPhone OS, Android offers an SDK for developers and a “market” for promoting and selling applications.The following are just a few examples of those applications that are geared toward the automotive industry, pointing to the possible features that could be included in a networked computer-enabled car of the future.
Ecorio, formerly known as Eco2Go, is a green-themed car application that tracks mileage and carbon output. We covered this application back in June as one of the finalists in the Android Developer Challenge. As noted on Ecorio’s website, it is now available to G1 users from the Application Marketplace accessible from their phone. The application logs your mileage and includes an “Offset” feature, as displayed at right, enabling drivers to review the carbon footprint calculated for each trip and to buy offsets for it right from the phone.
This year students at MIT launched a handful of applications for the Android platform as a response to Google’s Android Developer Challenge. One of the applications — KEI — operates as a virtual spare key. It can be used to start a car via the Android-enabled device or unlock doors. The application is secured with 128-bit encryption and enables access to multiple vehicles, or to a single car by multiple users. Future KEI systems may include diagnostic capabilities as well. No information yet on when this app will be released for consumers. However, there are already a few companies that are close to releasing a similar product - see Delphi’s iPhone app, for example.